Is There an Alternative to Worrying all the Time?

I recently posted a Peanuts cartoon on Facebook that said: “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening … it just stops you from enjoying the good.” The comments I received were even more interesting, and most boiled down to, “Agreed, but easier said than done.”

Actually, replacing worry with calm, rational thought isn’t as hard as you think. Most people go wrong when they try NOT to worry. You can’t NOT do something without having a positive alternative to replace it. Saying, “Don’t worry” is like saying, “Spend the next five minutes NOT thinking about a pink elephant.” In the act of NOT thinking about a pink elephant, you are thinking about one. The same applies to worry. The challenge lies in finding a rational, easy-to-implement alternative to worry. Once you have that, you can replace worry with something much better. You have to choose this alternative for yourself. I call my personal favorite “rational planning.” If you start to worry about something, get into the habit of asking yourself, “Do I have a rational plan for dealing with what I’m worrying about?” If so, remind yourself that you do. It’s kind of like having an emergency exit in your office building. You know where it is, and you know where to go in case of an emergency. Beyond that, you forget about it. If you sat around all day worrying about whether there might be an emergency in your building, it would be pointless. The same applies to other things you worry about.

I especially liked yet another reply to the Peanuts cartoon: “On the other hand, fighting back just might stop the bad stuff.” If fighting back means rational planning or some other alternative to worrying, then that’s definitely the right way to go. Worrying serves no productive purpose. It brings you down, and after the five-minute or five-day session of worrying plays itself out, you’re still right back where you started. Only action, grounded in rational thought and planning, can change anything. If there’s no action that can possibly be taken, then worrying serves no useful purpose.

I have to admit that my favorite reply stated clearly and emphatically: “I worry. I fight back. I have ice cream.” Love it. Better to eat ice cream than to worry, but if eating ice cream (in a sensible dose) or engaging in any other perfectly legitimate activity serves merely as a way to unthinkingly “squash” the worry, it won’t work. You’ll have to keep eating ice cream (I know that sounds like fun, but maybe not in the long run…) in order to keep the worry from reappearing. You’ll stop, the worry comes back, you start again … the point is, you’re going in circles. Until or unless you find a rational alternative to replace the worry, you’re doomed to compulsively eat ice cream or do whatever makes you feel better in the short run until you default back to worrying again. And interestingly enough – sort of like NOT thinking about that pink elephant – you’re still worrying about the issue even while your pants get tighter and tighter.

So the conclusion is simple and was expertly expressed in the final reply to my post: “I don’t worry about it, I prepare for it.” Amen. That sums up the alternative to worrying better than anything else I can think of – including ice cream.


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